Newspaper tycoon moves forward with idea to build west-coast oil refinery

·Politics Reporter

'Pie-in-the-sky', 'silly' and 'cockamamie.'

Those were just a few of the words used to describe David Black's idea to build a $13 billion oil refinery on the west-coast of British Columbia.

But if you know anything about Black — a self-made multi-millionaire who now owns more than 150 newspapers in North America — you know that he's not going to let the naysayers get him off-track.

In August, Black did indeed raise eyebrows when he announced plans to build the Kitimat plant which would refine Alberta bitumen into gasoline, jet fuel and diesel prior to being shipped to Asia.

For variety of reasons, the idea was widely-criticized: Industry insiders said that China wanted to refine the oil in Asia; an NDP MLA wondered aloud if Black would be able to raise the money; and environmentalists complained that the refinery would still mean a pipeline across B.C..

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But Black, apparently 'unbenounced' to his detractors, has been doing his homework.

Earlier this month, he went on a 10-day Asian fact-finding mission, and what he found was that China and Japan actually do want to buy refined Canadian oil.

"There was a lot of interest," Black told Yahoo! Canada News in a telephone interview on Friday.

"I talked to trading companies and oil companies. There wasn't one that said we're not interested. They want more information."

Black says that his biggest selling point was the fact that we can refine in Canada and land gas in China cheaper than they make it themselves.

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He says the business plan is complete, the feasibility study is done, marketing is currently underway and he's working on the environmental review. Most importantly, he claims that he'll have no trouble raising the money needed for the project.

"I've talked to a lot of bankers in Toronto and New York who say 'just get the contracts and we'll raise the money for you,'" he said.

Black's next step is probably his most difficult one: getting politicians, the public and industry onside.

"A couple of [oil] producers are not that keen. They would rather ship crude oil from tankers at Kitimat. I'm not sure what goes into that thinking," he said noting the refinery would create 3,000 permanent jobs.

"But what I believe that the pipeline tanker combination is not something British Columbians want. Its certainly not something that First Nations along the coast want. Everybody worries about the bitumen offshore so I don't believe that is a viable idea whereas if they deliver the crude oil to the refinery then it takes away the bitumen from the offshore and it's a lot safer and has a lot more public acceptance.

"I just keep talking to [the stakeholders]. I think sooner or later they would realize."

And if, British Columbians ultimately say no to the proposed Enbridge pipeline, Black says he already has a plan B.

"CN Rail is very keen on delivering all that crude oil to the refinery by rail which would be easy for them to do because its right along the main line there," he said.

It looks like he's lining-up the customers, he has the money and he has contingency plans.

The idea doesn't sound all that 'cockamamie' to me.

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